Eleanor of Aquitaine – The mother of all Plantagenets


This month’s guest blogger is Susan Abernethy co-creator of ‘
Saints, sisters and sluts’ – an informative and entertaining collection of abridged histories of the worlds most notable women; from Queen of the Saxons, Aethelflaed (b868), right up to 2011 nobel prize winners Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman.

Susan has kindly agreed to help me spread the word about the glorious Plantagenets. As anyone who follows my blog and/or twitter I’m a big fan of Plantagenet King, Richard III. In this blog we’re going right back to the beginning with the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of all Plantagenets. 

Married to two Kings, mother of two kings and at least eight other children, zealous crusader, embroiled in wars and rebellions, held captive for sixteen years and finally taking the veil; Eleanor of Acquitaine was certainly a formidable woman. 

Born in 1122, in Southern France, Eleanor was the oldest child of William X, Duke of Aquitaine. Eleanor’s father provided her with a comprehensive education covering Latin, music, literature, riding, hunting and hawking. Her brother and mother died when she was young so Eleanor became heir to her father’s dukedom, one of the largest and richest in France at the time. Beautiful, wealthy, and landed, Eleanor was a highly sought after marriage prize. The winner of this prize was French prince, Louis (later to become Louis VII) who she married in 1137. Before their marriage it was agreed Eleanor would retain rights to her inheritance free and clear of Louis, and when her future son became King of the Franks he would inherit the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Although Louis adored Eleanor, their marriage was stormy, due to Eleanor’s feisty nature, her interference in political and religious matters and his piety. It was not until eight years after their marriage she had her first child, a girl, Marie. In the same year, Louis was invited to go on Crusade to the Holy Land.

Eleanor took up this challenge with zest, pledging to the Crusade and recruiting many people to go, including her ladies in waiting. In their travels to the Holy Land, they stopped in Constantinople and stayed with the Byzantine Emperor where

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort o...

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort of Henry II of England. Français : Aliénor (ou Eleanor) d’Aquitaine, reine consort de Henry II Plantagenêt, roi d’Angleterre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eleanor was greatly admired. They went on to Jerusalem and Damascus but partly due to Louis’ lack of authority they were hounded out by the Turks.

By the time they returned to France, Eleanor and Louis’ marriage had completely broken down. When Eleanor’s second daughter, Alix, was born in 1151, Louis was ready for annulment. The annulment was granted in 1152 with assurances by Louis that Eleanor could retain all of her inheritance.

As soon as Eleanor returned to her Duchy, she sent word to Henry Plantagenet, to come and marry her. Eight weeks after the annulment they were married and October 1154, Henry and Eleanor became King and Queen of England.

Over the next thirteen years, Eleanor had five sons and three daughters. Henry was unfaithful to Eleanor and their marriage was not a tranquil affair. By the time her youngest child was born, Henry was deeply involved with his favourite, Rosamund Clifford and the marriage was strained beyond repair. In 1167, Eleanor agreed to a separation and returned to her Duchy in Aquitaine.

In 1173, her eldest son, Henry, rebelled against King Henry II. Eleanor may have aided and abetted him along with her two other sons, Richard and Geoffrey. King Henry eventually had Eleanor arrested and in 1174 they returned to England. Because Henry feared any alliance between Eleanor and his sons, he kept Eleanor in captivity from 1173-1189.

Henry’s eldest son rebelled against his father again in 1183 but lost, dying soon after of dysentery. After his death Henry allowed Eleanor a trip to Normandy and some freedoms, although she was still under guard at all times. She even appeared at court with Henry on important occasions.

King Henry II died in July of 1189 and their son Richard I, the Lionheart, became King of England. It is said his first order was to release his mother from captivity. Eleanor rode to Westminster where the lords swore fealty to her in the King’s name. She ruled as Regent on behalf of King Richard while he was out of the country and when he was on the Third Crusade. Richard was captured in Germany while trying to return home after the Crusade. Eleanor negotiated the ransom for his release, though it drained England’s treasury.

Richard I died from a battle wound in 1199. Eleanor lived on into the reign of her youngest son, King John. At 77 years old she attempted to unite England and France by travelling Kingdom of Castile to choose one of her granddaughters as a bride for the son of the King of France.

In 1201, King John and the King of France were at war. Eleanor went to Poitiers to keep John’s enemies at bay and was besieged at Mirabeau castle. King John rescued her and she finally retired to Fontevrault and took the veil as a nun. She died there in 1204 at the age of 82.

You can follow Susan on twitter @SusanAbernethy2

3 thoughts on “Eleanor of Aquitaine – The mother of all Plantagenets

  1. Story Addict says:

    Oh, this was so interesting! I was inspired enough by her background to mention her in one of my novels, but I hadn’t read up on it in this much depth. Great stuff, thanks so much for writing this up!

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